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A CurtainUp NJ Review
Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express<
The stage version directed by Emily Mann now having its world premiere brings the sixteen or so suspects plus the inimitable detective Hercule Poirot once again into that delightfully silly concoction of murder, mystery and mayhem.
The spectacular evocation of the famous train's plush interior and pristine exterior by set designer Beowulf Boritt under the glow of Ken Billington's masterful lighting is simply breathtaking. It's all aboard the famously smoke-belching express train as we also drop our jaws in awe at the sumptuous attire created for the characters by the brilliant William Ivey Long.
The A-list performers involved offer ample clues this train with all its international (using the term loosely) cargo has its engine irrefutably heading towards Broadway. So, forget about this crack train's traditional route between Calais and Istanbul,
The train, a glistening fabrication of black and gold and red Deco decor moves on a notably visible track with the same speed as the often very funny dialogue. Many of Ludwig's zingers are given to actors who have to also deal with their hilarious and often incomprehensible European accents. But you won't find getting thrown off the track of comprehension a deterrent to your enjoyment.
The time is 1934 and Poirot is at the top of his game. Except for a short prologue in the Paris train station, the action takes place aboard the train and within the various sleeping cars or "wagon-lit" as it is mentioned by what the French call them. This, as the Express hurtles to its destination and with Poirot's inevitable solving of a murder that may come or not come as a surprise.
What is not a surprise are the exuberant performances by a company that seem to be having the times of their lives, that is except for the one who doesn't. What a distinguished charmer the neatly mustached Allan Corduner is as the eminently observant Belgian sleuth. Take that you overly neurotic Sherlock! You almost sigh with relief at how suavely Poirot goes about deducing who did what to whom, why and how. One marvels at his delectable cool and at the deliciously detectable phoniness of those with whom he must mingle.
Although all the supporting players are terrific as they plunge headlong into their extravagantly exaggerated characterizations, I have to give the biggest shout-out to Julie Halston, as the egregiously, if purposely, scene-stealing Helen Hubbard. Halston, whose renown began as a member of Charles Busch's legendary theater company appeared most in the recent Broadway revival of You Can't Take It With You. She enters wearing a hat best described as an exotic bird preparing for take-off, and literally stops the show with her mime singing to a recording of "Lullaby of Broadway." Don't ask.
I'm not sure I understood a word that came out of the otherwise marvelous Veanne Cox's mouth as the perpetually in-mourning Russian Princess Dragomiroff, but no matter. After making her entrance ostentatiously gowned in white furs and feathers, the wonderful Alexandra Silber soon becomes a major player/suspect as the suspiciously helpful Hungarian Countess Andrenyi. Other stand-outs include Mabout Ebrahimzadeh as Michael, the shadily accommodating Conductor; Samantha Steinmetz as Greta Ohlsson the simply off-the-wall Swedish nurse cum missionary; Juha Sorola as the inscrutably shifty Hector MacQueen; Evan Zes as Poirot's friend Monsieur Bouc who runs the train company, and Max Von Essen, who plays the surprisingly understandable Scottish Army Officer Colonel Arbuthnot and also.....oops, that's telling too much.
Christie's Murder on the Orient Express is all about the acting, the over-acting and the unapologetic playfulness. All of the plot's diversions and digressions have been adroitly addressed by director Mann as is our eagerness to let mirth as well as murder will out.
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Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express Adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig Directed by Emily Mann
Cast: Allan Corduner (Hercule Poirot), Maboud Ebrahimzadeh (Michel, Headwaiter), Max von Essen (Colonel Arbuthnot/Samuel Ratchett), Susannah Hoffman (Mary Debenham), Julie Halston (Helen Hubbard), Juha Sorola (Hector MacQueen), Veanne Cox (Princess Dragomiroff), Samantha Steinmetz (Greta Ohlsson), Evan Zes (Monsieur Bouc), Alexandra Silber (Countess Andrenyi), Ivy Cordle (Daisy Armstrong)
Set Design: Beowulf Boritt
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Lighting Design: Ken Billington
Sound Design: Darron L. West
Dialect Coach: Thom Jones
Production Stage Manager: Cheryl Mintz
Running Time: 2 hours including intermission
Matthews Theatre at McCarter Theatre Center, 91 University Place, Princeton, N.J.
Performances: Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday matinee at 3 pm and Sunday matinee at 2 pm.
From 03/14/17 Opened 03/17/17 Ends 04/02/17
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 03/17/17 NJ Theaters
NJ Theatre Alliance
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